Cultivating Jewish Social Justice Leaders

By, Simone Holzer from Chevy Chase, Maryland

Simone attended Tel Yehudah as a chanicha (camper) and worked as a madricha (counselor) for two summers with our Hadracha program. This summer, she interned at the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). 

SCOTUS marriage pictureFor two summers in high school, I participated in Camp Tel Yehudah’s youth leadership program. The culmination of this program is an advocacy trip to Washington, DC, in which we (the campers) choose a cause (our tikkun group), and then meet with the appropriate organizations to get further educated before spending a day on Capitol Hill advocating for the issue.

As a camper, my tikkun group was Israel Advocacy, and I was amazed that leaders in Washington wanted to hear from a group of Jewish high school students. When I returned to TY a few years later as a counselor, I led the group for Education Reform, and was even more amazed to be on the other side, watching the campers rise to the challenge of advocating for an issue they care about with federal lawmakers. These two experiences — both as a camper and as a counselor — helped me fully understand the importance of engaging Jewish youth to create powerful and substantive social change. And, I also learned that social justice work is a meaningful way for me to express and connect with my Judaism.

My worlds collided earlier this summer when I learned a group of TY campers were coming to NCJW’s Washington office to learn more about reproductive justice and pay equity. I knew many of these campers from my past two summers working at camp and was so moved to see and hear them discuss these important issues. I almost forgot they were high school students and not older! Like me, these campers have found an outlet for their Jewish values and identity in their advocacy — something right at the heart of everything we do at NCJW.

Interning at NCJW’s Washington office this summer has helped me understand the need for progressive Jewish voices in our communities as well as on the state and federal levels. I’ve seen the strength in numbers we can generate through coalitions and NCJW sections on issues such as reproductive justice, voting rights, judicial nominations, and ending domestic sex trafficking. Bringing a Jewish voice to a wide range of critical issues allows NCJW to join forces with other Jewish organizations to strengthen this voice, and to bring a unique Jewish perspective to other faith and secular coalitions. And when we amplify this progressive Jewish voice, we not only bolster our advocacy and impact on the issues, we also empower our communities.

While I did not expect to connect with TY this summer while interning at NCJW, it was indeed beshert. Thinking back to my summers at TY, I’m reminded of what I gained from my experiences there: my closest friends, a desire to make Judaism a part of my life, a sense of what it means to be part of a Jewish community, and the realization that we can strengthen our activism, our communities, and our personal connections to Judaism by engaging in progressive advocacy from a Jewish perspective. The passion for Jewish social justice work that brought me to NCJW this summer grew out of my time and experiences at TY, both as a camper and as a staff member, and I am thrilled that my experiences at NCJW this summer have strengthened my ability and resolve to be a Jewish advocate and ally.

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